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No. 9 Notre Dame handles Armstrong-less Virginia, 28-3

By Scott Ratcliffe

Photo: UVA Athletics

With hopes of an ACC Coastal Division title still very much alive, win or lose, Virginia came into Saturday’s final non-conference game of the season against No. 9 Notre Dame without its most valuable weapon, quarterback Brennan Armstrong.

The Cavaliers would have certainly benefited from the services of the nation’s leader in passing yards and total offense, as true freshman Jay Woolfolk stepped in under center and admirably took the majority of the snaps.

In the end, the Fighting Irish moved to 9-1 on the season with a 28-3 win at Scott Stadium to remain in the conversation for a College Football Playoff appearance with two games to play.

All Armstrong could do was watch from the sideline with a headset on, as the Irish racked up 423 total yards of offense (249 rushing, 174 passing).

UVA (6-4) was also without starting running back Wayne Taulapapa, the team’s second-leading rusher behind Armstrong, and the offense failed to make much noise as a result against a solid Irish defense.

After being blanked 21-0 in the first half, Woolfolk drove the Wahoos into the red zone — highlighted by Dontayvion Wicks’ first two catches of the game — to start the third quarter, but he was sacked on third down before a missed 44-yard field-goal attempt from Brendan Farrell.

The Hoos were able to move the ball more efficiently from there on, picking up more yards over the first 10 minutes of the third quarter than they did the entire first half, but couldn’t manage to score. Woolfolk was sacked on a fourth-down conversion from inside the Irish 30 with 4:01 left in the third before Notre Dame began to drain the clock.

The Irish made it a four-score contest with 1:41 remaining in the third on a 15-yard touchdown toss to Kevin Austin Jr., and never looked back.

Keytaon Thompson caught back-to-back grabs early in the fourth quarter to get the Cavaliers back in the red zone, but Woolfolk was sacked again for a 3-yard loss on third down from the 13. Bronco Mendenhall decided to take the points, as Farrell finally got UVA on the board with 12:16 remaining with a 34-yarder.

The damage could have been worse, had it not been for a Noah Taylor fumble recovery inside the Virginia 10-yard line with just over eight minutes to go.

The Hoos totaled 278 yards of offense on the night — 196 passing, 82 rushing. Woolfolk finished his first college start completing 18 of 33 passes for 196 yards and two interceptions, while rushing 16 times for an additional 15 yards. He was under pressure most of the game, as referenced by eight Notre Dame sacks.

Thompson accounted for 121 all-purpose yards (a team-high 110 receiving, 11 rushing), while Mike Hollins led the Hoos with 44 yards on the ground on nine carries.

As mentioned, Virginia still controls its own destiny in the Coastal despite the loss, needing to win its final two games to reach the ACC Championship game in December in Charlotte.


The UVA defense came up with a huge fourth-down stop on the game’s opening possession, as Irish quarterback Jack Coan attempted to sneak it for a yard to keep the chains moving, but was stopped short to the delight of the Scott Stadium crowd. Nick Jackson leapt over the pile — a la Troy Polamalu — to ensure the Irish turnover on downs.

On the ensuing snap, Woolfolk lined up under center but then went out wide, and Thompson took the Hoos’ first snap. Woolfolk then completed a short pass to Billy Kemp IV on second down, then tried to run for the marker on third down, but was tripped up and the drive stalled. Jacob Finn’s punt didn’t go far (14 yards), setting up the visitors with great field position at the Cavalier 43-yard line.

Elliott Brown got his mitts on a Coan pass attempt on second down on the ensuing drive, and the Wahoo defense came up big on third down to appear to force another fourth-and-1 and a 38-yard Jonathan Doerer field-goal try. Coach Brian Kelly called for a timeout and decided to go for it, however, and the move paid off.

Coan handed off to Kyren Williams for the first down out of the break, then on the next snap found Michael Mayer from 6 yards out for the game’s first touchdown and a 7-0 advantage with 4:53 left in the opening quarter.

Following another Finn punt, Logan Diggs picked up 26 yards, hurdling Johnson in the process, to set up the Irish with another scoring opportunity. Coan connected with Mayer for 16 yards to the Virginia 10, and a few plays later, on third-and-goal from the Wahoos’ 4-yard line, Coan dumped it off to Braden Lenzy, who hustled and dove into the end zone to put Notre Dame ahead, 14-0, with 14:11 until halftime.

The Hoos gained just 9 total yards on their first two possessions, giving up 157 before getting the ball back for a third time, but finally picked up a first down on the following drive, as Woolfolk found Thompson for 15 yards on third down.

Two plays later, Woolfolk showed off his legs and kept it for 12 yards and another first down, along with some much-needed momentum, then Hollins kept the chains moving with 10 more inside the Notre Dame 30.

Woolfolk was then sacked for a 7-yard loss on third-and-5 from the Irish 23.

From there, the Hoos turned the ball over on downs, initially lining up for a field goal but then having Woolfolk try to run for the 12 yards on his own. To his credit, Woolfolk dove and nearly reached the line to gain, but even if so, a UVA penalty, which was ultimately declined, would’ve wiped it off.

Coan then engineered a 9-play, 80-yard scoring march, capped off by a 22-yard Williams touchdown run down the sideline, and with 4:33 on the clock, the Hoos found themselves down, 21-0.

Woolfolk, who was seen holding his midsection after the fourth-down conversion, returned to the huddle on the following series, and did all he could to get some points on the scoreboard before the break, but was picked off with 1:16 left deep in Notre Dame territory.

The Irish outgained the Hoos, 264-92, across the first 30 minutes.


Virginia travels to face Pittsburgh next Saturday (3:30 p.m., ESPN2) in a crucial Coastal Division battle before closing out the regular season in two weeks at home against arch rival Virginia Tech on Nov. 27.


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